In China and many parts of the world, the price of face masks has jumped significantly. I tried buying some online to be shipped to my apartment when I get back to China eventually, and found prices were high and delivery would take nearly a month. I placed an order with two different suppliers. Hours later the orders were simply cancelled. I guess it's because they either decided to raise the price or couldn't guarantee supply. All over the world, prices are probably going up.

Here in Hanoi, Vietnam, where we were lucky to be when things started becoming difficult in China with the Coronavirus outbreak, we went to a local pharmacy first thing on a Monday morning to buy some masks (pharmacies had been closed for several days due to the Tet holiday here, related to the Chinese New Year). There were people ahead of us buying up a big chunk of their supplies. We bought some for the next few weeks as well, and then more people came in looking for masks. Prices have apparently gone up since then with significantly increased concern about the Wuhan Coronavirus, though Vietnam has been very fortunate to have just a few cases.

Early this Saturday morning as we went on a walk to a nearby lake in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, I saw a small group of people on the sidewalk, the place where vendors of all kinds, especially little restaurants, set up shop, making sidewalks almost impossible to walk on sometimes. It looked like an opportunistic mom-and-pop operation with a big cardboard box of face masks, a cheap plastic table, and a makeshift sign.

Can you guess the price per mask from this operation in Hanoi, Vietnam?

"Hmm, I wonder how much they are charging now?" Curious, I approached them and asked how much for a face mask. The answer completely shocked me.

"No price. They are free. Here, take two."

What? What's the catch? My wife and I were stunned, so we asked some questions to figure out what was going on here. Three women were running this operation: a young woman, her mother, and her grandmother. Three generations of women from this family have bought a big supply of masks and are now giving them out for free because they are worried about the unfair vendors who have jacked up prices. They want to do their part to make Vietnam a safer, better place. This was so unexpected, especially after a few encounters with unscrupulous cabbies, who taught us that "Happy New Year" means "I am about to rip you off." But we will forget those cabbies in a couple of weeks. We will never forget the real people of Vietnam that we have met, the ones who value service and charity about their own finances.

We asked more questions. Is this for the government? For a church? A religion? Some organization? I wanted to know what the business model was. The business model, it turns out, is called love. No organizational agenda was behind this. It's just what this family likes to do. They also organize events where they go to hospitals and cook food to help the sick and needy, feeding about 500 people at  time. Wow, what a sweet family! We thanked them profusely not so much for the masks as for their love of others and the goodness that they radiate. Such beautiful people. Just like the local Vietnamese we met at Church last Sunday here in Hanoi and many others we have met as well. We have been touched by the good people of Vietnam.

At a time when others in the world are exploiting every crisis that comes along, how refreshing to see people jump in to serve and sacrifice, giving masks away for free. The sidewalks may not be easy to walk on, but the people of Vietnam make even a crowded, chaotic city like Hanoi such a beautiful place.

I asked for the name of the family. Their daughter wrote Cơm Nhân Ái in her beautiful handwriting on the last page of a sci-fi novel I had with me (Jiang Bo's The Bookstore at the End of the Universe, FYI, which I've hardly touched on this busy trip), making the book all the more precious to me now.  The mother, the mastermind of this operation, also showed me the family name on a graphic she had on her phone. I believe "Com" is the surname that may also mean "rice," I think "Nhân" means "multiply" and while Google translate tells me "Ái" means craving, I prefer to apply the Chinese "ai"  that means love. "Multiply the love." OK, not accurate, but a nice way to remember the experience.

The Cơm Nhân Ái family made my day.

This mother is the mastermind
of this remarkable public service.

The daughter told us about this family's
regular service work. Wonderful!

Another view of the charitable project
early on a Saturday morning.

Here is the mother without the mask.
Truly an amazing woman.

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